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The Art of Ike Jime: How to Properly Kill a Sushi-Grade Fish

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In this week's cover story, I examine the many reasons that sushi-grade fish isn't pulled from the Gulf of Mexico. When it comes to sushi, you can pretty much forget about SLGT'ing in Houston -- or the rest of Texas, for that matter.

One of the most significant reasons that Gulf fish can't be considered sushi-grade is the way that it's caught and killed. The Japanese method for killing fish -- and ensuring that their flesh is sushi-grade or sashimi-grade -- is called ike jime. And you won't find any Gulf fishermen practicing it right now.

Ike jime is relatively obscure in the United States, despite that fact that almost all fish are processed this way in Japan. Throughout the course of interviewing many chefs on ike jime, I did find a handful that were immediately familiar with the technique -- including Brandon Fisch.

In the video above (which is not for the faint of heart), Fisch demonstrates how to properly ike jime a fish. In this case, it's a summer flounder or fluke which was purchased at Super H Mart.

Across YouTube, you'll find a few other videos -- albeit not many -- of chefs and fishermen haphazardly demonstrating their own versions of ike jime. Here are some examples:

This video shows almost all of the ike jime steps save the spiking of the fish's brain. Regardless, look at how much blood flowed from the fish after being processed. That's what you're looking for in a properly bled-out, sushi-grade fish.

Here, you can see a fisherman "dressing" a wild-caught steelhead salmon. Again, no spiking is shown, and neither is the bleed-out. This is a pretty painless one to watch, if you're sensitive to gore.

This is the video from chefs Dave Arnold and Nils Noren that I reference in the feature story. You can see immediately when the fish is submerged in its ice bath that the blood flows out exceptionally quickly; the heart should still be pumping enough to expel the blood, and the cold water helps draw it out as well.

Last but not least, this truly excellent video from the Tsukiji Fish Market shows a Japanese chef ike jime-ing and serving mackerel to his customers, with that all important head-spike at around the 1:25 mark. Beware twitching fish in this one.

Want to learn more about which Gulf fish could be used for sushi, without the blood and guts? Head to our interactive feature: Explore an Ocean of Possibilities.


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